MUMBAI (Reuters) - Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat will play an ascetic who befriends Jesus of Nazareth in a U.S. film that revolves around a legend that he visited India.
Filmmaker Drew Heriot's "The Aquarian Gospel" is about Jesus's life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period not documented in the Gospels when legend has it he traveled through India, Tibet and Persia.
Heriot said Sherawat had been the first choice to play the role of the ascetic in the $15-million film, set for release in 2009.
"After viewing her work, we then saw interviews of her and were extremely impressed by her intelligence and her background," Heriot told Reuters in an e-mail over the weekend.
Sherawat created a stir in her Bollywood debut with 17 kissing scenes in "Khwahish." She also played the role of an Indian princess in the Jackie Chan film "The Myth."
The actress said it would be a challenge to bring to life her character as a female yogi in "The Aquarian Gospel."
"I find that in most mythological and spiritual film stories, women seem to be lacking any true wisdom or a sense of humor," Sherawat said in a statement released by her publicist.
"I look forward to bringing both of those qualities to this character."
The director said he was going ahead with the film despite knowing it would provoke debate.
"The overall response has been one of intense interest, and we feel that in light of all the recent ancient scriptural discoveries, there is no better time for a film project," Heriot said.
"There are plenty of books about the subject, and this will be the first narrative feature about it."
The "Da Vinci Code" (2006), the adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling novel, angered some Christians in India for suggesting that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had children.
The film was banned in several Indian states before being released with the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction.
Christians account for around 2.5 percent India's billion-plus population.
Writing by Tony Tharakan